The Duke Spirit

Duke Spirit is one of those bands. In the endless panorama of indie-pop that forms the milky way of British music, they appear just as another star.
They shine together with many other groups and fight hard to differentiate and find a space to have visibility, gather fans and keep the dice rolling.

The amount of similar bands may be one of the reasons my path haven’t came across them until this tiny gig in Cambridge. A mini pre-tour to check some of the songs of the new album that they are recording. It is their third, it will be called Bruiser, it is scheduled for in September.

I always heard nice words about Duke Spirit very entertaining and energetic live act. Indeed they rock!
On stage a classic quintet line up, two guitars a bass, drums and the flamboyant singer, Liela Moss that undoubtedly is the centre of gravity of the ensemble.

There must be something related to surnames containing ‘Moss’ and sexiness.
With Kate Moss going to get marry with Jamie Hince, the band mate of Alison Mosshart rock’n’roll sexiest act, the Kills, it is a nice period for the sex, fashion and rock’n’roll bands.

Liela Moss, may well be Kate Moss secret sister, surely she puts on a damn sexy live show.
She has studied her moves, poses have been learnt from flipping through hundreds of fashion photo-shootings. Liela knows how to catch the attention of the audience.

Playing with the microphone poles, the monitors, percussion and a column in the middle of the stage. Flirting with the other band members, with the fans. Her body language is set on “hot and sexy”. The boots, dark skinny jeans and glittery jacket make her part of the group of cool model rockstars in company of Juliette Lewis, Karen O and Alison Mosshart.

If there is a weak point in Liela Moss attitude is that she looks too convinced of being sexy which make her much less sexy than she would be keeping a less confident approach. It is the subtle balance between looking special and looking real. The need of fans to sympathise with a star and seeing her unique at the same time.

A show wouldn’t hold up if the music wasn’t good and the music is good. We’re not on a catwalk but on a small and dark pub stage with a couple of hundreds people squeezed to dance singing along guitar loaded tunes.

Duke Spirit have the hits and also have the new songs. Being my Duke Spirit experience limited to few listening of the first two albums on Spotify I am not biased by their old hits. During the show there are a couple of moments when Liela sits on a keyboard to play new songs which are easily my best moments of the night. Good signs for the upcoming album.

Musically they have a love for the early nineties golden era of shoegaze, writing melodic tunes then submerge them in guitar waves.
The bearded guitarist standing on the right (it should be Toby Butler but I am not sure), contributes massively to the sonic-scapes transforming many of the songs with his feedback into more courageous journeys than NME indie-pop hits.

It may be the place, or the direction they are taking, the sound is very lo-fi garage. Hopping bass and guitar lines in the Sonic Youth way.
A sound closer to the debut album, Cuts Across the Land, with Liela soulful voice balancing the rawness of the guitars than the more commercial, elaborated Neptune.

Surely this is one of the most entertaining and energizing gigs you can pick up live in the ongoing soporific folky, electro, hipster UK scene.
The Duke Spirit are fun to watch, fun to photograph, fun to listen to and fun to dream on.

Duke Spirit on the web are here [website][myspace][twitter][facebook]

Photo tip

Since I moved to digital I shoot with zoom lenses, something of a heresy for years, from my Zeiss primes I use on film.

Undoubtedly digital photography, colour, high ISO and zooms gave me a lot more to experiment with my concert photography.
In order to find new ways to shoot a concert that doesn’t look the same boring band standing in front of microphone poles, I am enjoying some of the old zoom tricks known on photography manuals since the first zoom was invented.

Shooting while Zooming technique is damn easy. The problem is that the result is not easy to predict and multiple attempts and patience are needed. At a gig you’ll encounter other problems too.

You should be able to use flash (it is not essential but it helps) so a small pub gigs is the place to start, where no one, from the band bothers if you flash.

Duke Spirit show was perfect in this contest. Given the energy of the band, the dynamism of these approach represents them better than others, as when I first tried it on the acoustic folk of Alessi’s Ark.

Set your camera on manual or shutter priority mode. Set a shutter time around half a second or a second, it depends how long you take to zoom the entire focal length.
Then take your picture and at the same time zoom throughout trying to be as smooth as you can. Ideally a tripod would make this procedure more controllable but I don’t see many live concerts where you can use a tripod so try to hold as firm as you can, some blur would be unavoidable.

Depending on the way you do it, zoom in or zoom out, you get a different effect.
If you are using a flash, it will freeze a moment in the zooming. Synchronising the flash with the front or the rear curtain gives two more ways to change the result.
The front curtain flashes at the beginning, then the blurred scene is recorded by the zooming afterward. If you synchronize with the rear curtain the last moment of the action is flashed.

It is also fun and entirely possible for the ones with non fast lenses and cheaper cameras. With a 1” shutter speed easily you shoot at f/5.6-8 at a gig something achievable even on cheap standard zooms and non high iso performing bodies.

Composition wise, you better keep the subject at the centre of the frame, because that is the region of the frame which will be less blurred by the zooming. You can consider cropping in the post-editing if you want the subject in the rule of third.
About which zoom to use, it is up to what photos you want to achieve. I prefer the 24-70 that on the wide position gives information about the place and than closes up on the singer.

Last, but not least, this photos get quickly boring if repeated, so for a band or a portfolio don’t overuse it. A couple of shots are OK, ten would look redundant.

~ by Valerio on June 13, 2011.

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